, Volume 91, Issue 4, pp 536–539 | Cite as

Stable carbon isotope ratios in Asian elephant collagen: implications for dietary studies

  • R. Sukumar
  • R. Ramesh
Original Papers


Stable carbon isotope ratios in bone collagen have been used in a variety of dietary studies in modern and fossil animals, including humans. Inherent in the stable isotope technique is the assumption that the isotopic signature is a reflection of the diet and is persistent in collagen because this is a relatively inert protein. Carbon isotope analyses of bones from a southern Indian population of Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), a long-lived mammal that alternates seasonally between a predominantly C3 (browse) and C4 (grass) plant diet, showed two patterns that have important implications for dietary interpretation based on isotopic studies. Relative to the quantity of the two plant types consumed on average, the δ13C signal in collagen indicated that more carbon was incorporated from C3 plants, possibly due to their higher protein contribution. There was a much greater variance in δ13C values of collagen in sub-adult (range -10.5‰ to-22.7‰, variance=14.51) compared to adult animals (range -16.0‰ to -20.3‰, variance=1.85) pointing to high collagen turnover rates and non-persistent isotopic signatures in younger, growing animals. It thus seems important to correct for any significant relative differences in nutritive value of food types and also consider the age of an animal before drawing definite conclusions about its diet from isotope ratios.

Key words

Stable carbon isotopes Collagen Diet Asian elephant Elephas maximus 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. Sukumar
    • 1
  • R. Ramesh
    • 2
  1. 1.Centre for Ecological SciencesIndian Institute of ScienceBangaloreIndia
  2. 2.Physical Research LaboratoryAhmedabadIndia

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